Sid Meier's Civilization V

Sid Meier's Civilization V

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Zigzagzigal's Guide to Japan (BNW)
By Zigzagzigal
Unlike most other Civs that work best at domination, Japan is less restricted to a particular era making them more able to adjust around other Civs' strengths. This guide goes into plenty of detail about Japanese strategies, uniques and how to play against them.
 
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Introduction
Note: This guide assumes you have all game-altering DLC and expansion packs (all Civ packs, Wonders of the Ancient World, Gods & Kings and Brave New World)



Japan's past is proof that the world is neither a constant nor purely chaotic; that both long periods of stability and rapid, brutal change can occur. The islands of Nippon are lands of beauty and destruction, of traditions and of modernity. First settled around 20-30 thousand years ago, Japan's distinctiveness really began to develop in the Jōmon period comprising several millennia preceeding the 4th century before the common era. The following eight centuries saw technological development and the growing military power of an increasingly unified kingdom. While this kingdom would run through a period of near-collapse in the 6th century of the common era, this governmental structure would essentially continue until the 11th century, where a new new ruling class of warriors - the Samurai - would take power. In the 14th century, the imperial family aimed to retake power from the Samurai. While briefly successful, the victorious parties conflicted and tore Japan apart, leading in to over two centuries of near constant warfare. This came to an end in the 16th century as three successive leaders - Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Tokugawa - unified the islands. While making use of firearms from Europe, Tokugawa was to forbid their use and bar most contact with the outside world.

And this held, until in 1854, a strange new power from the east - the Americans - forced Japan to open to global trade by gunpoint. This led to the fall of Samurai rule and rapid modernisation. Adopting the example of powerful western nations, Japan began to build an empire, supported by its membership of the Allied forces in the First World War. Japan's annexation of Manchuria in 1931 would prove a step too far in the view of their former allies, leading them to later ally instead with Nazi Germany. With many western powers focused on combatting Nazi Germany in Europe, Japan was able to easily take vast amounts of land surrounding the western Pacific Ocean. America responded with an oil embargo on Japan, leading to a retaliation on American air bases in the Pacific. While initially successful, this act had brought the sleeping giant of American into the Second World War. Facing an unbeatable power capable of flattening cities in an instant, Japan was forced to surrender, dismantle its empire and give up its ability to declare war. But rather than Japanese power fading, their economy was to grow substantially over the following decades to rival even that of America. While this was considerably set back in the 1990s, Japan now has a cemented status of a major world power. From a humiliated state dragged out of isolation to an established economic powerhouse in a century and a half, Japan's progress is unrivalled. Can you equal - or exceed - that accomplishment? Can you build a civilization that stands the test of time?



Before I go into depth with this guide, here's an explanation of some terminology I'll be using throughout for the sake of newer players.

Beelining - Focusing on obtaining a technology early by only researching technologies needed to research it and no others. For example, to beeline Bronze Working, you'd research Mining and Bronze Working and nothing else until Bronze Working was finished.
Builder Nation/Empire - A generally peaceful nation seeking victories other than Domination.
Finisher - The bonus for completing a Social Policy tree (e.g. Free Great Person for Liberty.)
Melee Units - Throughout this guide, "melee units" typically refers to all non-ranged military units - whether on the land or sea. "Standard melee units" refer to Warriors, Swordsmen, Longswordsmen, Spearmen, Pikemen and replacement units for them.
Opener - The bonus for unlocking a Social Policy tree (e.g. +1 culture for every city for Liberty's opener)
Spotter - A unit which allows a ranged unit (usually a siege unit) a line of sight with its target. Typically, siege units have a higher maximum range than their sight radius, hence the need for spotters.
UA - Unique Ability - The unique thing a Civilization has which doesn't need to be built.
UB - Unique Building - A replacement for a normal building that can only be built by a single Civilization.
UU - Unique Unit - A replacement for a normal unit that can only be built by one Civilization or provided by Militaristic City-States when allied.
Wide empire - A high number of cities with a low population each.
XP - Experience Points - Get enough and you'll level up your unit, giving you the ability to heal your unit or get a promotion.
ZOC - Zone of Control - A mechanic that makes a unit use up all its movement points if it moves from a tile next to an enemy to an adjacent tile next to the same enemy.
At a glance (Part 1/2)
Start Bias

Japan has a coastal starting bias. This increases the odds of you being able to use your Unique Ability's culture bonus on fishing boats and atolls early on in the game, lets you more easily make use of the free-fishing-boat ability Samurai have and makes building aircraft carriers in the very-late-game easier, too.

Uniques

Japan's uniques are less tied to specific eras than most. Samurai come in the medieval era, but are still useful even in the final years of the game. Zeroes come in the atomic era and never obsolete.

Unique Ability: Bushido

  • All units fight as if they are at full health even when wounded.
    • This does not prevent the Charge promotion (+33% damage against wounded units) from working against your units.
    • The Elite Forces tenet from the Autocracy ideology (closing the gap between wounded and full-health units by 25%) does not stack with this, and therefore has no effect when playing as Japan.
  • +1 Culture from fishing boats and +2 Culture from atolls
    • Atoll cannot be added to tourism with a Hotel, Airport and/or the National Visitor Centre. However, fishing boat culture can.

Unique Unit 1: Samurai (Replaces the Longswordsman)


A standard melee unit

Technology
Obsoletion
Upgrades from
Upgrades to
Production cost
Purchase cost
Resource needed

Steel
Medieval era
2nd column
(7th column overall)

Rifling
Industrial era
1st column
(10th column overall)

Swordsman
(100Gold)*

Rifleman
(220Gold)*
120Production*
460Gold*

1 Iron
*Assumes a normal speed game.

Strength
Ranged Strength
Moves
Range
Sight
Negative Attributes
Positive Attributes
21Strength
N/A
2Movement Points
N/A
2
  • None
  • 15% combat bonus in open terrain (Shock I)
  • 100% increased contribution to Great General generation (Great Generals II)
  • While embarked, can construct fishing boats

Positive one-off changes

  • While embarked, can construct fishing boats. This depletes the unit's remaining moves, but does not consume the unit.

Positive keep-on-upgrade changes

  • 15% combat bonus in open terrain (Shock I)
  • 100% increased contribution to Great General generation (Great Generals II)

Miscellanious changes

  • Upgrades to Riflemen, rather than Musketmen
    • Samurai can therefore be built until Rifling, rather than Gunpowder
    • Normally, promoting a unit from a Longswordsman to a Rifleman would cost a combined total of 230 gold. For Samurai, it's 220 (-4%)

Unique Unit 2: Zero (Replaces the Fighter)




A fighter-class air unit

Technology
Obsoletion
Upgrades from
Upgrades to
Production cost
Purchase cost
Resource needed

Radar
Atomic era
1st column
(14th column overall)
Never

Triplane
(110Gold)*

Jet Fighter**
(110Gold)*
375Production*
1090Gold*
None
*Assumes a normal speed game.
**Requires 1 Aluminium resource

Strength
Ranged Strength
Moves
Range
Sight
Negative Attributes
Positive Attributes
N/A
45Ranged Strength
N/A
8
6*
None
  • +33% strength vs. fighter-class aircraft
*This sight is not blocked by rough terrain or mountains.

Positive one-off changes

  • Does not require oil resources

Positive stay-on-upgrade changes

  • +33% strength vs. fighter-class aircraft
At a glance (Part 2/2)
Victory Routes

Note that these scores are a matter of personal opinion based on experiences with the Civilization. You may discover a way of utilising the Civ more effectively in unconventional ways.

Cultural: 6/10
Diplomatic: 5/10
Domination: 10/10
Scientific: 5/10

Japan's skew towards domination is pretty obvious. Tourism from fishing boats can also help at cultural victory slightly.

Similar Civs and uniques

Overall

A multi-purpose Unique Ability with a skew towards war and two Unique Units, one that's a front-line unit in the mid-game and one very late on that's an aircraft unit is something that America also has. America performs better on land, while Japan has a few maritime bonuses making them more effective by the sea.

Same start bias

The coastal start bias is the most common in the game. Japan shares it with Byzantium, Carthage, Denmark, England, Indonesia, Korea, the Ottomans, Polynesia, Portugal, Spain and Venice.

Similar to the UA

A good example of an all-round combat bonus akin to Japan's is that of Persia during a Golden Age. In both cases, they apply to all units, land or sea. Unless your units are on very high health, Japan's bonus is stronger, although Persia makes up for that with a +1 movement bonus on top.

China's UA, which makes Great Generals twice as effective, which is a bigger bonus than offered by Persia's UA and isn't confined to Golden Ages, but only applies to land units. Japanese units have to be down to about half health before the Japanese UA becomes more powerful than that of China's.

Similar to Samurai

Other UUs with Great Generals promotions include...


China's UA also offers a 50% bonus to Great General generation for all land units.

The Shock I bonus of Samurai allow you to get to better promotions sooner. The following UUs also similarly start with basic promotions:


The ability to make fishing boats with Samurai is akin to the ability of Rome's Legions to build forts and roads.

Similar to Zeroes

Zeroes are the only unique fighter-class aircraft, and the only other unique aircraft unit is America's B17. Functionally, Zeroes are quite like Siam's Naresuan's Elephant - they're both resourceless with a bonus against the same type of unit.
Unique Ability: Bushido (Part 1/2)
Japan's Unique Ability is divided into two complementary, but very different, features. Both can help get your early-game going efficently and have quite a range of useful tricks. The first half of this section focuses on the sea bonuses, while the second half focuses on the wounded unit bonus.

Sea Culture



The early-game

There's a good chance your capital will be in range of sea resources thanks to your starting bias, and even if it isn't, it's not hard to build cities that are. Atolls are even better, but as they can only occur near the equator, you're unlikely to start near them.

So, assuming you don't have atolls, you'll need Sailing to build Work Boats and get that culture going. Problem is, you've got a lot of other priorities at the start of the game, such as locating iron for Samurai later on, improving land-based resources and getting your science rate up. Here's a possible technological path to take:

  • Pottery
  • A required land-based Worker technology
  • Sailing
  • Writing
  • Mining (if you don't have it already)
  • Bronze Working
  • Any remaining land-based Worker technologies
  • Optics

You don't have to take this route, it's just a possibility. If you've got no nearby sea resources, cut out Sailing and Optics and take them later on, and maybe take Pottery after the first required Worker technology.


Above: With a Lighthouse and the God of the Sea Pantheon belief, you can have some rather impressive early yields.

The culture offered by sea resources is notable for arriving particularly early in the game, meaning just a couple of worked tiles can mean a considerable boost to tile expansion or Social Policy gain. For new cities, this means you can put off building a Monument in favour of getting its food or production infrastructure off the ground, or just build a Monument anyway to help offset the highest Social Policy cost of having more cities. Either way, this aspect of your UA is rather useful for getting your early-game to a good start.

And a good start is something you'll need. You can't build your first - and best - UU if you don't have iron, so you'll need to start expanding early on to track down good spots for it. Your best city locations will be the ones with both iron and plenty of sea resources in range, but if iron resources are sparse, be prepared to settle further inland if need be.

The mid-game

Come the mid-game, culture from sea resources and atolls is still a significant source for overall culture (assuming you got plenty of coastal city spots,) though to a slightly lesser extent than before. Rather than building Work Boats, you should now use Samurai instead for placing fishing boats as they aren't consumed when they do so. See the Samurai section for more details on all this. Keep a couple of Samurai around for the late-game as their fishing boat-building ability doesn't carry over when the unit's upgraded.

Don't forget to grab Navigation reasonably early for Seaports - that extra gold and production on sea resources is very nice to have.

The late-game

Once you have Hotels or Airports, the culture from fishing boats will contribute to tourism. Being influential over other civs gives you a variety of bonuses which are mainly useful in wartime, but pushing for a cultural victory based on this tourism, stolen Great Works and wonders is a possibility as well.

Summary of this sub-section

  • Build new cities in range of sea resources, atolls or iron.
  • Build fishing boats quickly in the early game for fast Social Policies
  • The culture offered means you can delay building Monuments if need be
  • In the mid-game onwards, use Samurai for placing fishing boats rather than using Work Boats
Unique Ability: Bushido (Part 2/2)
Wounded Combat


Above: Note that despite the effective strength of my Warrior being over a point lower than the Barbarian Brute, the damage that would be dealt by both is roughly the same.

Probably the most iconic unique feature of Japan is their ability to ignore the usual penalty units have while wounded. Usually, the less health a unit has, the less damage they can deal; at 50 HP, units deal about a sixth less damage than at 100 HP. That might not sound like a lot, but it really makes a difference for a number of reasons.

First of all, let's consider the earliest turns of the game. It won't take long until your Warriors and Scouts start bumping into Barbarians. This often leads to one-on-one fights, where your unit and the Barbarian unit keep wearing each other down until your unit gets to so low a level of health it has to withdraw. For Japan, however, your unit will get significantly more damage in before that happens. As such, you can pretty much always win a fight that for any other Civ would be evenly matched.

As you're able to kill units more quickly and recover more rapidly, you can keep a smaller defensive force in the early-game than most Civs. Combined with the ability to delay Monuments thanks to culture from fishing boats, you've got a lot more spare production to build up your infrastructure ready for Samurai.

Beyond standard melee

Aside from the melee fights of the earliest years, your UA has plenty of other helpful functions. Ranged units in particular gain a lot from doing full damage while wounded, as it means so long as they're out of range of rival attacks, they have no need to spend time healing up. Below are a few other features of this part of Japan's UA in action.


Above: Siege units tend to be the first targets for enemy attacks, meaning they'll usually be severely injured by the time they get the chance to attack. By dealing full damage, this Trebuchet can weaken Jenne enough so I can capture the city before they finish the unit off.


Above: Naval units can only heal in friendly territory, or if they have the Supply promotion. This makes fighting while the unit's injured very likely meaning your UA makes a major difference here. In this scenario, the two Triremes are evenly matched on paper, but I will win as the Songhai Trireme will do less damage as it gets injured.


Above: This Frigate was captured by the Prize Ships promotion (which is present on Privateers, but keeps on upgrade so it can still be used when the unit's upgraded to a Destroyer.) Units you've captured by this means start on half-health (and will likely be wounded further before you can use them.) Thanks to your UA, you can deal much more damage in these situations than usual.


Above: Air units also get a lot out of your UA. When set to sleep, they can't be directly attacked meaning it's safe to keep them fighting until they're on very low health.

The broader picture

Ultimately, this part of Japan's UA gives you an edge in wars of attrition, allowing you to deal more damage to enemy Civs before you need to withdraw. This becomes particularly useful when fighting far away from your homelands, which is something you'll need to do if you intend to win by a domination victory.

As a final note, don't be tempted to pick up the Elite Forces tenet from the Autocracy ideology. It might look like it'll make your wounded units stronger than your non-wounded ones, but it won't. It actually closes the gap in unit strength between wounded and non-wounded units by 25%. Because for Japan the gap doesn't exist, the tenet has no effect.
Unique Unit I: Samurai (Part 1/2)


Samurai are multi-functional units with a wide window of usage. One of their nicest features is the fact all their war-based advantages carry over when they're upgraded, so even if it's not a good time to start a war when they first arrive, you can still build plenty and keep them ready for later.

The first part of this section focuses on the wartime bonuses for Samurai. The second part focuses on the peaceful uses, as well as a summary of both parts.

Wartime


Above: Backed by an Armoury, new Samurai can immediately get to the Siege, Medic II or Cover II promotions, or go for Shock III and be just one promotion off March or Blitz.

Shock I

The potential of Samurai should be apparent as soon as you build them - an extra promotion gets you to better ones sooner. Don't just think of the free Shock I as a 15% open terrain bonus - think of it as the best promotion you can reach with the starting experience from a Barracks (or preferably, an Armoury.) That's not to say the Shock promotion is irrelevant, it's just that it's not the main advantage here.

There are two slight issues with getting a free Shock promotion, though:
  1. Getting the Shock I promotion on a Warrior or Swordsman and promoting it into a Samurai wastes a promotion
  2. You're likely not to use the Drill promotions (as it'll take longer to reach the later promotions that way) hence making you vulnerable in rough terrain.

The solution to these problems may seem to be to just give all your non-Samurai units rough terrain promotions, but that means you'll be vulnerable in the early-game in open terrain. So, here's what I propose:

  • In the early-game, your choice of rough or open terrain promotions should be based on your surroundings, taking into account Barbarians and early-game warmongers. If you're not sure, give those units rough terrain promotions.
  • Don't deliberately build lots of Warriors or Swordsmen for upgrading into Samurai - build Samurai from scratch so you can easily build upon their starting promotion
  • In the mid-game, your non-Samurai units should lean towards rough terrain promotions to balance out the open terrain focus of Samurai.

This changes, however, if you've got the Alhambra wonder. Samurai built in that city start with both Shock I and Drill I, so you have no need to worry about focusing other units on rough terrain to compensate for Samurai.

So, what about the actual use of the promotion? Well, the 15% bonus in open terrain is just enough to put Samurai without additional promotions on a par with promotionless Musketmen. You'll need that slight strength boost as Samurai promote directly to Riflemen rather than Musketmen, meaning they'll have to last through the renaissance.

Great Generals II

Aside from fishing boat-building and fighting better in open terrain, Samurai also have the added ability to contribute twice as much to the Great General counter compared to other melee units.

Here's what a Samurai or upgraded former-Samurai can gain.

Situation
XP gained
(Default)
Great General
points (Default)
XP gained
(Honour*)
Great General
points (Honour*)
Attacking
5
10
7
12
Defending from melee
4
8
6
10
Defending from range
2
4
3
5
*This assumes you have Military Tradition (and hence also Warrior Code) from the Honour tree.

These numbers may not be exactly what you expect, but have been tested in-game. Attacking with melee units is the fastest way to gain Great General points, but is also often the riskiest as your units will both lose health in the process and be able to be attacked again before your next move. Your UA will help a little there in lessening that problem.

Now, what to do with all those excess Great Generals? Build Citadels. If you come up against any particularly difficult opponents (such as area with lots of rough terrain) you can carve a path through their land by placing Citadels. The defence Citadels offer combines well with the fact your units will defend as if they're at full health at all times, making an incredibly hard-to-kill unit. Place a standard ranged unit there for full effect as they'll be able to attack units without having to move, but unlike siege units, they still gain the defensive bonuses from the tile.

Composition

So, you know that Samurai can start with three promotions when backed by an Armoury and they contribute to the Great General counter faster. But it's important to point out you can't use them alone in warfare - you'll need to bring siege, too. Helpfully, Trebuchets come with Physics, which is right next to Steel on the technology tree.

In addition to siege units, Crossbowmen can be useful complements to Samurai, though their position on the technology tree means holding off your first wars for them is probably not worthwhile. Start when your Samurai and Trebuchets are ready; bring the Crossbowmen in later. Mounted units are normally strongest in open terrain, which the free Shock I promotion of Samurai accounts for, so you don't really need Pikemen (though Landsknechte are still helpful if they're available.) If enemy ranged units are giving you trouble, Knights can be good, but be sure not to overstretch your army maintenance costs.

All you need for successful mid-game combat as Japan is Samurai and plenty of Trebuchets, but other units complementing them will still be a great help.

Special Bonus Strategy: Samurai of Brandenburg

This strategy isn't essential to Japanese gameplay, but could be worth trying out.

Samurai obsolete at Rifling, but the Military Academy and Brandenburg Gate - both of which add XP to new units - comes at the adjacent Military Science technology. If you delay getting Rifling and build both a Military Academy and the Brandenburg Gate in the same city, you can build Samurai with enough starting XP to get to March. If you build plenty of these, then upgrade them all, you've essentially got an army of Swedish Caroleans - but with a 45% bonus in open terrain and double Great General point contribution on top.

If building the Brandenburg Gate isn't possible, you can substitute it for the Total War tenet from the Autocracy tree. It takes a little longer to get to, but it's a little more reliable to pick up.
Unique Unit I: Samurai (Part 2/2)
Peacetime



When a Samurai is embarked on an unimproved fish, pearl, crab or whale tile, they can improve it, depleting their remaining movement points but not consuming the unit. This means between Samurai becoming available and Refrigeration (where offshore platforms are unlocked) you have no need to build Work Boats, and even beyond that, keeping a Samurai not upgraded will be still handy for improving most sea resources without the (admittedly small) cost otherwise incurred.

Right: Aside from not being consumed on use, Samurai have another advantage over Work Boats. It's not hard for a Work Boat to reach point A from Osaka, but it'd have to go around an entire continent to reach B (I had no cities on the western coast of the continent at this time.) Samurai can simply move over land to avoid that problem. Similarly, Samurai are great for improving sea resources near puppeted cities as puppets can't build Work Boats.

If you're settling new cities in the mid-game, escorting the Settler with a Samurai is a great idea. Front-line units (the line of units from Warriors to Mechanised Infantry) make good escorts anyway due to their lack of major weaknesses, but Samurai can also get to work improving the sea resources around the new city, rapidly getting it off the ground. If you've founded the God of the Sea Pantheon, but haven't founded a full religion, new cities founded will instantly get the belief and hence the production boost from fishing boats, meaning you can get those cities off the ground even faster (at least, until they grow too large for the Pantheon to be dominant any more.)

Building fishing boats with Samurai is also useful for dealing with fresh conquests. At this point in the game, for some Civs the cost of building Work Boats may still outweigh the benefits of improving the tile, and as such you're likely to come across unimproved sea tiles. While your injured Samurai heal up, your Samurai on full health can go and sort them out. Watch out for enemy sea units, though - Samurai are vulnerable when embarked like most units.

Summary

  • Build Samurai from scratch in cities with Armouries for maximum starting potential
  • Bring plenty of Trebuchets with your Samurai army; other units may be useful but aren't essential
  • Faster Great General gain can be nice, but isn't something you need to think too much about
  • Aside from being unable to improve oil tiles, Samurai can act as improved Work Boats and substitute them

Special promotions kept on upgrade

  • 15% combat bonus in open terrain (Shock I)
  • 100% increased contribution to Great General generation (Great Generals II)

As both the combat-based advantages of Samurai carry over on upgrade, you'll have good front-line units for the rest of the game. Once air units come onto the battlefield, front-line units are somewhat less useful, but they're still good for defending your Artillery and Rocket Artillery with and are still reasonable against land-based units.
Unique Unit II: Zero


At first glance, Zeroes are nothing special. A bonus against fighter-class aircraft seems very situational (it is, but it's not useless) and the oil-free nature of it seems like it won't make an impact as you don't need to build many Fighters to be able to intercept most incoming aircraft. But stop thinking of Zeroes as just an intercepting unit, and all sorts of possibilites open up.

The Resourceless Battleship

All air units require strategic resources to be built with the exception of Zeroes. This means you can build as many as you like (so long as you have the capacity for it - build a few Carriers and that won't be a problem.) Now, stop thinking of Zeroes as Fighter replacements. Instead, think of them as ranged units with 6 sight and 8 range. They might not deal as much damage as Rocket Artillery each, but you can stack several on the same tile making them very space-efficient.

A Carrier built in a city with a Military Academy and either the Brandenburg Gate or Autocracy's Total War can be promoted to hold up to 5 Zeroes. The overall production cost of may be high, but if your Samurai conquests have been successful, you should have a large number of cities able to contribute. This turns Carriers into a kind of Battleship. While its defence and damage output for each attack is weaker, it can attack up to 5 times, (fighter-class aircraft can't get the Logistics promotion, so it can't go over that,) doesn't require oil and has a much greater range. Zeroes, without a spotter, can reach a range of 6. With spotters, they can reach a range of 8, or 10 with the Range promotion.

To get the maximum damage potential out of Zeroes when using them in this way, be sure to promote them with the Air Ambush or Air Targeting promotions. The former makes them stronger against armoured units; the latter for naval units. Interception and air sweep promotions aren't very useful when you're mostly performing air strikes.


Above: Spain hasn't got around to upgrading their navy yet. It's a nice opportunity to tear it apart before they get a chance to retaliate.

A Carrier full of Zeroes can match or exceed the damage of Battleships, but what about their defence? That's where other naval units come in. Bring some Submarines to pick off enemy naval units (Battleships in particular), some Battleships to handle enemy Destroyers and some Destroyers of your own to deal with enemy Submarines (as well as to capture cities, seeing as the other units I've mentioned can't do that.) A loose ring of Submarines around your Carriers can see and intercept any troublesome naval units before they can cause any trouble.

What about land units? Well, the range of Zeroes is higher than any land unit, so as long as you keep your Carriers at least 4 tiles away from land, you'll have little trouble. At a range of 5 or more tiles, it's completely impossible for a land unit to hit your Carriers. Land-based anti-air weapons will still be an issue, but a couple of Battleships can handle that.

That leaves air units, and brings us on to the other strength of Zeroes: the bonus against other Fighter-class aircraft. This makes it much harder for intercepting Fighters to kill your Zeroes, and easier for you to pick off intercepting Fighters using air sweeps. Combine this with your UA, and securing air superiority is much easier for you than any other Civ.

So, filling Carriers with Zeroes can be an expensive, but resourceless and more mobile alternative to using high numbers of Battleships. So long as your escorting navy is reasonably strong and diverse, it'll be far harder to counter than heavy use of Bomber-class aircraft or Battleships.

By land

If you're attacking cities by land Zeroes won't be quite as effective, though they still have their uses. The oil-free nature of Zeroes allows you to easily stack to full limit of 6 in a city (or 10 with an Airport) and when set to intercept, your nearby land units will be pretty much guarenteed to be safe from aerial assault. Enemy Bombers will be intercepted, and any enemy Fighters attempting to perform an aerial sweep will have to face the Zeroes' bonus against them.

This means you can use the former-Samurai in a very similar way to before - bring plenty of siege (Rocket Artillery is amazing) and you won't really need much else.

Summary

  • Zeroes are the only resourceless air unit, meaning you can build lots and place them on Carriers to form resourceless Battleships. It's expensive but the result is more mobile and can deal more damage per turn.
  • Give your Zeroes Air Ambush or Air Targeting promotions to greatly improve their damage against armoured or naval units respectively
  • Don't worry about your Zeroes getting injured - your UA means you can keep them fighting until they're at very low health
  • Zeroes set to intercept are practically unstoppable without using either superior technology or destroying where they're based

Special promotions kept on upgrade

  • +33% strength vs. fighter-class aircraft

Unlike Stealth Bombers, Jet Fighters can still be based on Carriers. They've got slightly more strength than regular Bombers although their promotions are less useful for air strikes. The main problem, though, is that Jet Fighters require aluminium, meaning the whole makeshift Battleship idea is far less viable. On top of this, Missile Cruisers do not need aluminium, have both the anti-air and anti-Submarine advantages of Destroyers and are far, far cheaper than filling a Carrier with Jet Fighters.

So, into the information era, your Fighter-class aircraft should revert to their standard usage of stopping enemy planes. That's still something they'll be very good at, though - Jet Fighters with the special promotion of Zeroes will practically guarentee you air superiority. If you lose some of these Jet Fighters, don't worry - Zeroes never obsolete, so you can build new ones, cheaply upgrade them and have new Jet Fighters with a 33% bonus against fighter-class aircraft.
Social Policies: Starting Trees
There's lots of ways to go through the Social Policies as Japan. Your exact choices of Social Policy trees varies depending on the situation you're in at the time and personal preference.

In the early-game, Liberty, Tradition and Honour are all possible choices. If in doubt, choose Liberty.

In the medieval era, Commerce and Exploration both can be viable. There's more on that in the second half of the Social Policies section.

Once you enter the renaissance era, go straight to Rationalism. You'll need it to keep your science rate competitive.

Liberty

These are good reasons to pick Liberty:
  • You're not sure which starting tree to pick
  • You don't start near iron
  • There's a lack of exceptional city spots
  • Your capital is in a poor location

Opener

Cities can now expand their borders without Monuments, if fishing boat culture wasn't enough already. Of course, you shouldn't neglect Monuments - gaining Social Policies is important - but at least they're now a little less urgent.

Republic

A production boost is particularly good in new cities. If you're settling cities in the mid-game, using Samurai both as an escort and to improve nearby sea tiles, the production offered here complements the food and culture from the fishing boats well to get the city off to a great start without even any buildings.

Collective Rule

A free Settler and faster Settler production (in your capital at least) will be very useful for tracking down iron spots, or spots with plenty of sea resources. If you can't get iron, you can't get the better of your two UUs, so don't put off expansion!

Citizenship

Help develop your cities faster by land! This policy combined with Samurai makes a great cleanup combination after conquering cities - the Workers can rapidly repair land tiles you may have pillaged earlier, while the Samurai can get to work on the sea tiles.

Meritocracy

The happiness on offer here isn't massive, but is enough to get you through to Samurai conquests typically. Don't let your cities grow too tall to the point of exhausting what little happiness is available at this point in the game, or you'll struggle to support any cities you capture later.

Representation

A Golden Age will be nice on the way to Samurai, but this is hardly the most urgent of Social Policies to pick up.

Finisher

Not sure what to pick? Go for a Great Scientist and place an Academy with it. Other good options are a Great Prophet to found a religion, or a Great Engineer to rush a good wonder.

Tradition

These are good reasons to pick Tradition:
  • Your capital's in a good position
  • You don't have to go far to reach iron
  • There's some sea-resource heavy locations or just really good city spots in general
  • You intend to raze captured cities

Opener

If you've started near sea resources, you can get an amazing start to Social Policy gain and cut through to the strong stuff in this tree. Otherwise, the faster tile acquisition through culture will be powerful once you do settle near good, sea-resource heavy locations.

Oligarchy

It's not an amazing policy, but it's needed to get to the better policies in Tradition. At least free garrisoning can save you some cash and the extra ranged attack effectiveness can help repel Barbarians.

Legalism

Your UA allows you to put off building Monuments a little, but with Legalism, you don't need to worry about building them at all. Enjoy having lots of culture early on.

Landed Elite

Now we're really getting to the good stuff. Landed Elite is particularly good if your capital started near some fish for high food yields, but it's still useful anyway to grow your capital tall ready for Samurai construction.

Monarchy

This is a crucial policy for supporting conquests - both the gold and happiness alike will really help out there.

Aristocracy

You have some time for building a wonder or two in the early-game, but not a lot, so this policy is best picked up last. It'll still have its uses in building later wonders such as the Brandenburg Gate, and it slightly helps in handling the happiness of particularly large cities.

Finisher

Free Aqueducts and faster growth in your first four cities will be useful for preparing them to build military units.

Honour

These are good reasons to pick Honour:
  • You've got plenty of iron and are planning to build a huge army with it
  • There's lots of Barbarians around
  • The mid-game Samurai war will be enough to put you in a winning position (and hence you don't need the infrastructural boosts of the other trees)

Note that Honour's lack of infrastructural bonuses gives it the weakest long-term potential of the starting trees. You can offset this a little by taking the left-hand-side of Liberty after Honour's Opener before returning to the left-hand side of this tree.

Opener

Keep Barbarian encampments standing and kill any that leave the tile, and you've got yourself a decent source of early-game culture. Your UA makes Barbarian farming a little easier than it would be for most Civs, so there's that on your side.

Discipline

While it might not offer much at first, a 15% bonus will be enough to close the strength gap between Samurai and Musketmen later on. The main point of getting this policy early is for later policies on the right-hand side.

Military Caste

More culture means more Social Policies (and cities can expand their borders without needing cultural buildings - useful for puppeted cities,) while the happiness helps support conquests.

Professional Army

Samurai are much more effective if you build them in cities with Armouries. Problem is, as Armouries come at the same technology as Samurai, building them delays the launch of your attack. A bonus to building XP buildings helps reduce that problem. The other bonus of this policy - cheaper upgrading - will save you a huge amount of money once you enter the industrial era and beyond.

Warrior Code

This is the easiest way of getting an early Great General, which will be useful once you start your Samurai conquests. The faster Great General gain offered here stacks with the Great Generals II attribute of Samurai for even more of them later. Additionally, this policy also makes standard melee units faster to build, which applies to Samurai - meaning you can get them built faster and launch your attack sooner. Earlier attacks are nearly always more effective.

Military Tradition

Faster XP gain means you can get to the good promotions sooner. Armoury-backed Samurai for example can get to March after attacking 5 times, instead of 6 (assuming they don't gain any XP from being attacked in the mean-time.)

Finisher

All your International Trade Routes pillaged? No problem - just keep fighting and you'll get cash every time you kill.
Social Policies: Mid-game trees
After you've finished your initial Social Policy tree (or have picked out all the policies you need in your hybrid approach) it's time to move on to Commerce or Exploration - at least until the renaissance, where you should switch to Rationalism. Like the choice between the three starting trees, the choice between Commerce and Exploration is partially about personal preference and partially about the situation you find yourself in.

Commerce

These are good reasons to take Commerce over Exploration:
  • You need money more than you need happiness in the short to medium-term
  • Your empire is more land-based than sea-based
  • Your future attacks are likely to be by land rather than by sea

Opener

Capitals start near at least two luxury resources giving them a decent base gold output (and if you started near sea resources, all the better as the Compass technology and Seaports gold to them.) This Opener builds on that advantage, making a noticable, if not huge, difference.

Wagon Trains

If your gold problems are sorted by this point, head straight to Mercantilism instead. Otherwise, Wagon Trains is a very effective policy for increasing your gold supply, both through cheaper roads and railroads, and through the extra gold on Caravans. While sea-based International Trade Routes might be better money, land-based ones are harder to pillage and hence are more reliable in times of war.

Mercenary Army

Landsknechte are very cheap to buy - even more so with Mercantilism - but can do everything Pikemen can and more. Even if you feel no need to bring anti-mounted units along with your Samurai, Landsknechte are still good for getting the last hit on a city, as you'll get double the normal amount of gold in that situation.

Mercantilism

Coupled with Autocracy's Mobilisation and the Big Ben wonder, units become stupidly cheap to buy. Whether you're delaying Rifling to get four-promotion Samurai, or trying to rapidly fill a Carrier (because Zeroes stack, you can buy multiple in the same city in the same turn) it really helps your money to stretch further. And if that wasn't enough, Mercantilism offers a rare source of science outside the Rationalism tree.

Entrepreneurship

The weakest policy in the Commerce tree, but it's still useful for making better use of the Great Merchants that puppet cities may make from time to time. Puppet cities often favour gold maximisation (making them more likely to fill Merchant slots) but don't worry - the Great People they generate won't raise the cost of future ones in your empire.

Protectionism

A significant boost to happiness is offered here, which should be enough to support quite a few captured cities.

Finisher

Still need more gold? Build a few trading posts near some of your less-important cities. It's a good way to use citizens in cities where production is poor and you don't want to grow it too tall.

Exploration

These are good reasons to take Exploration over Commerce:
  • You need happiness more than you need money in the short to medium-term
  • Your empire is more sea-based than land-based
  • Your future attacks are likely to be by sea rather than by land
  • Your coastal cities' production is poor
  • You intend to go for a war-based cultural victory (if this is the case, mixing in some Aesthetics policies as well may be useful)

Opener

Extra sight on naval units will be particularly useful for Battleships, as they will no longer need spotters - though Zero-filled Carriers will likely fill that role anyway. The extra speed is good for keeping your Carriers mobile and hence safe from attack.

Maritime Infrastructure

Take Naval Tradition first instead if you have an immediate need for happiness. Otherwise, this is a great policy for making coastal city production more competitive (usually coastal cities suffer from poorer production than more inland ones.)

Naval Tradition

If you have plenty of coastal cities, this will make a huge positive contribution to happiness. With Merchant Navy, coastal buildings become one of the most cost-effective sources of it.

Merchant Navy

Save money on coastal buildings, meaning more is left over for unit maintenance. You'll need that if you intend to fill plenty of Carriers with Zeroes. Additionally, the East India Company now provides a good boost to both culture and production - stack it with the Heroic Epic, Alhrambra and/or Brandenburg Gate for maximum impact.

Treasure Fleets

Sea-based International Trade Routes are good anyway, but this makes them even stronger. By the time Zeroes arrive, this policy will be making you around 20-30 gold per turn, or perhaps more if you've got hold of Petra and/or the Colossus.

Navigation School

Great Admirals are good for keeping your navy strong (with the 15% strength bonus) and safe (with the ability to be used up to heal nearby units) though it's important to consider whether or not this and the finisher are worth the cost of a Social Policy.

Finisher

Revealing hidden antiquity sites is nice if you're aiming for the Autocratic cultural victory, but isn't really worth finishing Exploration for if you're not.

Rationalism

Opener

While keeping your empire happy can be a difficult task for a warmonger at times, the moments when you do receive the global 10% science bonus makes it all worthwhile.

Secularism

Take this later if you lack specialists. Otherwise, it's an immediate boost to science, which is always good.

Humanism

Great Scientists are generally the most powerful of the Great People, so be sure to dedicate a city to generating them. Prior to the modern era, use Great Scientists to plant Academies. In the modern era and beyond, hang on to them until a few turns after you've got Research Labs up, then use them to rush technologies.

Free Thought

Another large boost to science on a par with the Opener. If you've got the Commerce Finisher as well, trading posts become particularly good tiles for keeping your gold and science up without needing large populations in cities.

Sovereignity

Reclaim some cash from your science buildings, ready for supporting late-game armies, navies and air forces.

Scientific Revolution

This is mostly for the finisher, as mid-game warmongering is unlikely to win you many friends for Research Agreements.

Finisher

Use the free technology to get to something like Radar sooner. Be sure to use it on a technology you haven't started researching yet for maximum impact.
Ideology
Autocracy and Order are both viable Social Policy trees for late-game war. Order's a little better for supporting general infrastructure and offers better science bonuses, but Autocracy is more focused on war. I'll cover both, with the best choices for the first "inverted pyramid" of tenets from each (3 from level 1, 2 from level 2 and 1 from level 3,) assuming you're going for a domination victory.

Level One Policies - Autocracy

Do not take Elite Forces. It has no effect for Japan. Take Futurism instead of one of the options below if you're going for a cultural victory.

Industrial Espionage

Take something else if you have a technological lead. Otherwise, more effective technology-stealing helps ensure you remain a threat to even the more powerful Civs.

Mobilisation

This is really useful for acquiring lots of Zeroes, fast. As they stack, you can buy several in the same city in the same turn. This tenet makes that whole process significantly cheaper.

Fortified Borders

You'll need all the happiness you can get to support city conquests, and all the gold you can get to support makeshift Zero Battleships (or just late-game armies in general.) Fortified Borders offers a method to obtain happiness without any maintenance costs, so addresses both of those issues.

Level Two Policies - Autocracy

If you're low on happiness, substitute one of these tenets for Police State (if you're annexing cities) or Militarism (if you're puppeting or razing them.)

Nationalism

Frees up even more gold for Mobilisation.

Total War

All units with a Military Academy will now produce units with three starting promotions. Faster military production is very helpful, too - allowing easier mass-production of Zeroes, Carriers or other units to escort them.

Level Three Policy - Autocracy

Clauswitz's Legacy

Time this right - you'll want to take this tenet around the start of your final wars. 50 turns is enough time to secure world conquest (or at least put you in a definite winning position) on any game speed, so long as your army's built prior to the start of those turns.

Level One Policies - Order

If your happiness is strong, substitute either Socialist Realism or Young Pioneers for Hero of the People.

Socialist Realism

Monuments are very cheap to build anyway, and this tenet makes them both cheaper and provide as much happiness as a Colosseum.

Skyscrapers

Need to develop a city quickly? This tenet is great for that. Buying an Airport in a newly-conquered city for example will help your offensive by enabling airlifts and increasing its plane capacity.

Young Pioneers

Another good source of happiness. The Skyscrapers and Iron Curtain tenets both encourage keeping rather than razing cities so you'll need all the happiness you can get.

Level Two Policies - Order

Workers' Faculties

A science bonus! Exactly what you need to ensure your armed forces stay ahead of competition. Plus, Factories are now much easier for smaller cities to build, meaning those cities can mature faster and start contributing to the war effort.

Five-Year Plan

A rather effective production bonus, particularly noticable in smaller cities. The more production you have, the more units you can build, the more damage you can do and the faster you win the game.

Level Three Policy - Order

Iron Curtain

Annexing cities allows you to quickly buy Airports in them, both useful for airlifting new units in and allowing the city to stack plenty of Zeroes. A key problem with that - the unhappiness generated by occupied cities or the costs of Courthouses to address that - is solved thanks to free Courthouses on city captures.

Additionally, internal Trade Routes are more effective. Try sending lots production-based Trade Routes to a city with the Heroic Epic, Alhambra and/or the Brandenburg Gate so you can churn out strong units even faster.
Religion
Every Civ gains from founding a religion, though to varying extents. Try to found a religion if you can, but to Japan, like most Civs aiming for a domination victory, it matters a little less if you don't get one as it does for many other Civs.

This section covers the best choices of beliefs for Japan, although highly terrain-dependent choices (including most faith Pantheons) have been left out, so you should use your own judgement a little. Getting a faith Pantheon, even with a wide empire, is a good idea to secure a religion sooner and hence get a better selection of beliefs.

Pantheon

God of the Sea

The effects this can have on your early-game can often merit taking this over even a faith Pantheon. Your UA already encourages you to build fishing boats for culture, so making this bonus work should be of no great difficulty, and the reward is substantial - a significant boost to early-game production. Even later in the game, this Pantheon helps your coastal cities to compete with the production of inland empires and get new coastal cities off their feet.

Messenger of the Gods

Quite a significant early-game boost to science, so long as you can get those city connections up and running quickly.

Faith Healers

Likely to do lots of land-based combat in the late-game? Faith Healers is amazing for that, as your Zeroes will be based in cities and hence easily able to benefit from the increased healing. Particularly good for those Zeroes with Air Repair - they'll heal so fast, you can just keep using them over and over again.

God of Craftsmen

The poor man's God of the Sea, but nonetheless useful for getting Samurai built that little bit faster.

Founder

Tithe or Church Property

If you want to support a Samurai army, you're going to need money. Both of these Founder beliefs offer it in slightly different ways. The former's better if you've got a tall empire or in the event you'll have trouble getting your religion to be dominant while the latter's better for wide empires where rival religions aren't a problem.

Ceremonial Burial

Weak, but better than nothing as a source of happiness.

Follower

Pagodas

The best belief for happiness for wide empires, pretty much. Also offers some faith (to help buy more later) and culture (because everyone loves Social Policies.)

Mosques

More faith but less happiness than Pagodas. Makes a good backup option.

Asceticism

This is a rather inexpensive way to get a quick-fix of happiness. Not spectacular, but isn't tied to faith generation.

Religious Centre

For taller empires, this is a reasonably affordable way to get happiness. More expensive than Asceticism's bonus, but twice as much happiness. Of course, you could combine both together seeing as if a city meets the requirements for Religious Centre, it also meets the requirements for Asceticism.

Religious Community

Another one better for taller empires, though if you've got a generally-wide empire with one large city, it can be good then, too. A production bonus of up to 15% is on offer.

Cathedrals

A backup for a backup - minus the Great Art slot, Cathedrals are only half as effective as Mosques, though at least it's still maintenance-free.

Guruship

A little bit of production to help with building armies, infrastructure or suchlike. Not amazing, but has a lot of small uses.

Enhancer

Religious Texts or Itinerant Preachers

Keeps your religion strong without having to spend faith. The former's a little better for taller empires or ones where there's a lot of nearby rival religious pressure, while the latter's better for wider empires with not too much rival religious pressure.

Just War

You might not get this working in time for Samurai wars, but it shouldn't be impossible for you to convert some rival cities ahead of the late-game. Note that the 20% bonus only applies when you fight enemy units near their cities of your religion. You won't get the bonus when fighting their cities.
World Congress
Here's a list of the decisions and brief notes on importance of some. Ones missing depend greatly on the situation you're in. Voting choices may vary depending on your game (for example, if you get lots of Natural Wonders, Natural Heritage Sites may be worth it)

Note that "priority" means how important it is to vote on a matter if it comes up, not necessarily how much you should prioritise putting a vote for the matter forwards if you have an opportunity to. For example, you shouldn't put the Standing Army Tax forward, but if it does turn up, you should prioritise to vote against it.

Arts Funding

Low priority
Vote no

Cultural Heritage Sites

Low priority
Vote no

Embargo City-States

High priority
Vote no

City-states may be your only source of international trade after all that warring.

Historical Landmarks

Low-Medium priority
Vote no

International Games

Medium priority
Vote no

International Space Station

Medium priority
Vote no

Natural Heritage Sites

Low priority
Vote no unless you have a Natural Wonder of your own

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

High priority
Vote yes unless you have uranium and anyone likely to build nukes lacks it

Nuclear bombs are very, very bad to a load of makeshift Zero battleships, so generally voting to ban nukes before anyone gets hold of them is a good idea.

Scholars in Residence

Medium-High priority
Vote yes unless you're in the lead technologically speaking

Sciences Funding

Medium priority
Vote yes

Standing Army Tax

Very High priority
Vote no

World's Fair

Low priority
Vote no
Wonders
You might have a little time prior to the medieval era to build a wonder or two, and some time prior to end-game wars, but generally Japan is in the business of capturing wonders rather than building them. Here's a selection of the best wonders for Japan, arranged alphabetically in each era. Remember - you're strongest at warring, not wonder-building, so don't go overboard and try to build everything on this list!

Ancient Era

Pyramids (Liberty Only)

Combined with Liberty's Citizenship, this allows you to rapidly improve an area around a city, or repair pillaged tiles in one turn (on normal or quick-speed games.) At least for land tiles - you can use Samurai for the rest.

Statue of Zeus (Honour Only)

Assuming you're going for a domination victory, capturing cities is your ultimate goal. As such, a bonus to conquering cities will only help there.

Stonehenge

Taking God of the Sea rather than a faith Pantheon? Picking up Stonehenge will help make up for the lost faith and will usually secure you a religion later.

Classical Era

Colossus

More gold means you can support more soldiers later.

Great Lighthouse

If you intend to use Carriers full of Zeroes as makeshift resourceless high-range Battleships, having this wonder will make them even more mobile. The sight bonus isn't useful on Carriers as Zeroes have a sight of 6 anyway, but it will still be handy for the naval units escorting those Carriers.

Oracle

Build upon the advantage your high culture output gives. Chew through those Social Policies so your Samurai wars will be even more effective.

Terracotta Army

You need an army with a high diversity of units to make this work, but if you're successful, you'll be rewarded with a substantial increase to your army size ready for later conquests.

Medieval Era

Alhambra


Above: I captured this city and later built the Brandenburg Gate in it so I can get as many promotions as possible on new Samurai prior to getting Rifling and upgrading them.

The Alhambra gives your Samurai flexibility - new Samurai built there will have both Drill I and Shock I, meaning balancing units with rough and open terrain promotions is much easier. It also gives a 20% boost to the city's cultural output - great if it's a coastal city with some sea resources nearby.

Machu Picchu

An excellent and reasonably reliable source of gold. Plus some faith.

Notre Dame

10 points of global happiness makes this an excellent choice for supporting conquests. If you capture rather than build this wonder, the city you take will be pretty much unhappiness-free.

Renaissance Era

Porcelain Tower (Rationalism Only)

Even if Research Agreements are hard to make at this point in the game, a free Great Scientist is still worth building this wonder for.

Industrial Era

Big Ben (Commerce Only)

With Commerce's Mercantilism and either Autocracy's Mobilisation for units or Order's Skyscrapers for buildings, gold purchasing becomes surprisingly affordable. Spam those Zeroes, or develop cities super-fast!

Brandenburg Gate

Combined with a Military Academy, new units in this city will get three promotions. If you put off Rifling and build Samurai in that city, you can get them straight to March. Zeroes can go straight to Air Repair.

Modern Era

Kremlin (Order Only)

Just because you have lots of former-Samurai, doesn't mean armoured units are useless. They're good for hit-and-run attacks on ground-based anti-air (the main weakness of Zero stacks) and for getting the last hit on cities. So, the Kremlin's main effect isn't useless. And even if it was, this wonder gives a free Social Policy, so it's still worth building.

Neuschwanstein

Particularly good if you've taken Autocracy's Fortified Borders, but still handy anyway, this turns Castles into gold-generating culture-and-happiness buildings.

Prora (Autocracy Only)

Happiness and a free Social Policy. Both nice to have.

Atomic Era

Great Firewall

The culture generation from your UA can make Japan a tricky Civ for cultural Civs to deal with, but add in the Great Firewall in the mix (which prevents the double tourism effect from The Internet from having any effect) and you make their day even harder. Plus, you can free up a Spy to use elsewhere if you've got a bit of a tech lead and other Civs have been stealing from you.

Pentagon

While end-game upgrade costs aren't particularly high, it's still nice to reduce them and use the saved money elsewhere.

Information Era

CN Tower

The potential's huge if you have a large empire. A 33% culture boost everywhere and an unhappiness-free point of population in every city. The latter bonus could mean a lot of extra gold, or empire-wide production, and definitely means a boost to science - all of which will help out in these last few years.
Pitfalls to Avoid
There's a lot to Japan - lots of little subtle features which many players will miss, or assumptions that aren't true. I've talked a lot about how to play as Japan, now here's how not to play as them.

Not tracking down iron early

You need to know where iron spots are sooner, rather than later. Get Bronze Working early and settle those locations before someone else does so you'll be able to build a Samurai army when it arrives

Putting off working sea resources

The culture bonus is most powerful early on. The longer you put off working the tiles, the less effective the bonus is. Don't just wait for Samurai to come - get some Work Boats going.

Excessive early wonder building

Even if you want to go for a cultural win, too much early wonder building means you'll waste potential for conquests, which Japan excels at. It's often easier to capture a city full of wonders than it is to try and build them all yourself, especially on higher difficulties.

Building Samurai without XP buildings

Samurai backed by Armouries can be just one promotion away from March, or get straight to Medic II, Siege or Cover II. This provides a considerable edge over enemy armies, much more than just a 15% bonus in open terrain does.

Upgrading all your Samurai

Leave at least one non-upgraded so you can improve sea resources for free. Work Boats may be cheap by this part of the game but the costs of many add up.

Getting Autocracy's Elite Forces

Ignore what the Civilopedia says. It actually closes the gap in damage between wounded and non-wounded units by 25%. For Japan, the gap doesn't exist, so the tenet does nothing.

Neglecting Zeroes

They might not be as good as Samurai, but Zeroes aren't useless. Being the only resourceless air unit, you can build pretty much as many as you like and treat them as ranged units with twice the range of Artillery (without spotters) or almost three times the range (with them.) Just watch out for land-based or sea-based anti-air.

Using Zero-filled Carriers alone

Even with the Armour Plating promotions, Carriers are very vulnerable to enemy ships - especially Submarines. Bring some Destroyers along, too.

Moving in air units immediately into conquered cities

When a city is captured, all units inside it are killed - that could mean an awful lot of Zeroes down the drain if you move them in to an unsecured city.

Building or buying Jet Fighters

Zeroes never obsolete, and start with a unique promotion that carries over on upgrade. Upgrading them is also very cheap.
Negate Nobunaga: The Counter-Strategies
Japan excels at war but is vulnerable to many peacetime strategies.

Playing against Bushido

Sea Culture

Japan is likely to have a high culture output early on in the game if they can access sea resources. So, the solution is simple - cut off their access to those resources. Settling in areas near sea resources (or in a way that they can't build cities that access them) will make things harder for them, but sending a few naval units to pillage their sea tiles will work too.

Wounded Combat

First things first, be very careful using any sort of melee or air attack on Japanese units. If the unit's on full health, it's no different from fighting a full-health unit of any other Civ, but fighting a low-health Japanese unit with melee or air attacks will cause you to take significantly more damage than normal.

The solution? Make good use of ranged units, and aim for one target at a time. Try to finish each unit you fight off in one turn, so their UA makes little difference.

Playing against Samurai

Samurai, like generic Longswordsmen, depend on iron. Cut off the iron supplies and they suffer a huge strategic resource penalty, and you can cut through them like butter. Once again, pillaging saves the day!

Nowhere near their lands, don't know where their iron is or pillaging is too risky? Be prepared to make good use of rough terrain. Samurai are open terrain specialists, but are no stronger than normal Longswordsmen (ignoring Japan's UA) in rough terrain. Planting a few Crossbowmen on hills will prove quite effective.

The key weakness of Samurai, though, is their inability to be upgraded to Musketmen, meaning Japan's front-line units will be of below-average strength into the renaissance era. That's a great time to strike back against them.

Playing against Zeroes

Because intercepting Fighters will be prone to air sweeps by Zeroes, it may be best to Destroyers, Missile Cruisers, Anti-Aircraft Guns or Mobile SAMs instead to keep their air units at bay. If you do want to take on Japan's air force in the skies, bring a good-sized stack of Fighters (or Jet Fighters) with a mix between those with Interception promotions and those with Dogfighting promotions. The former help prevent your stack (and nearby land units) being attacked while the latter can take on intercepting Zeroes.

Ultimately, the most straightforward (and often fastest) way of destroying air units is to take out the city or Carrier they're in before they can move out. Make good use of Rocket Artillery and Submarines.

Stategy by Style

Early-game Aggressors

While Japan's UUs haven't kicked in yet, their UA certainly has. Bring more units than you normally would, especially ranged units. Remember to target one unit at a time to minimise the threat of their UA.

Mid-game Warmongers

Either stick to rough terrain or give your units open terrain promotions to counteract those Samurai have. Get a fast unit to pillage their iron resources, and the fight will become much easier.

Late-game Warmongers

The presence of Zeroes makes it very difficult to get air superiority. Either strike before then, or be prepared to bring surface-based anti-air with you and to make heavy use of Rocket Artillery, Battleships and/or Missile Cruisers.

Cultural Players

While not quite as bad as Rome or Siam, Japan's still one of the trickier Civs to become influential with. The fewer sea resources and atolls they have, though, the less severe the problem is. Try bribing a sea power such as England or the Ottomans to fight them. They'll hopefully pillage Japan's sea resources, cutting back on their culture and hence cutting back on your problem.

Diplomatic Players

Is Japan spamming Zeroes everywhere? Standing Army Tax. Problem solved. Does everyone hate Japan's warmongering? Embargo. Problem even-more-solved. Are they threatening to attack you? Bribe a another Civ to attack them. Problem super-solved.

Scientific Players

Japan is vulnerable to a technological advantage. Musketmen have an edge against Samurai, while the bonuses Zeroes have isn't enough for them to overcome Jet Fighters. So long as you don't neglect the bottom half of the tech tree too much, you shouldn't have too much of a problem.
Other Guides
Meta-guides

These guides cover every Civ in the game and can be used as quick reference guides.

Civ-specific guides, in alphabetical order

All 43 Civs are covered in in-depth guides linked below. In brackets are the favoured victory routes of each Civ.
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64 Comments
Zigzagzigal  [author] Mar 11 @ 8:40am 
Hmm, seems they don't after testing. However, culture on terrain (e.g. culture on jungles) will be added if you also have a valid improvement on the tile.

I'll try and fix all references to this in the guides.
matthew_kilpatrick Mar 11 @ 2:41am 
very late to the game here but atoll culture doesn't get added to tourism.
Zigzagzigal  [author] Oct 9, 2015 @ 1:14am 
Okay, tweaked that.
Trar [99th Calzones] Oct 8, 2015 @ 7:57pm 
"Are they threatening to attack them? Bribe a another Civ to attack them."

Bit weird here too.
Zigzagzigal  [author] Oct 7, 2015 @ 12:51am 
Okay, fixed that.
Trar [99th Calzones] Oct 6, 2015 @ 7:23pm 
"Building or buying Jet Fighters

Zeroes
never obselete, and start with a unique promotion that carries over on upgrade. Upgrading them is also very cheap. "

Formatting is a bit screwy here, otherwise still a good guide - been keeping it in mind for my current Japan game.
Zigzagzigal  [author] Aug 19, 2015 @ 2:48am 
If you mean conquest in general, there's guides on that here. [forums.civfanatics.com] I decided a long time ago not to do general guides as one, they already exist, and two, making 43 Civ guides took long enough =p
Oliver Closeoff Aug 18, 2015 @ 1:20pm 
Can u do how to conquer??
Yahweh Apr 27, 2015 @ 7:46pm 
congrats on being done!
Trar [99th Calzones] Jan 7, 2015 @ 5:59am 
Awesome work, they're really helping me out. Thank you!